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Community led planning in a pandemic

Despite a lifetime of travelling around the Highlands, I had never visited Foyers and the south side of Loch Ness. So, when the chance to facilitate this plan landed in my inbox in October 2020, I sensed an opportunity. Not simply to get to know somewhere new, but to do something that hadn’t been done before in Scotland – to support the emergence of a healthy, vibrant, growing rural community, leading change itself from the inside, and working with the public sector as an equal partner.

That unique opportunity exists because of unrivalled access to resources. Significant community benefit funds from local windfarms – literally millions of pounds a year – coupled with the commitment, energy and growing capacity I’ve seen first hand, means that the local community has the ability to invest in a way that the public sector might have done 50 years ago, and few other communities in Scotland can match.

Foyers and Stratherrick are ideally placed to implement sustainable, contemporary solutions to the challenges that this rural Scotland faces: good jobs, affordable homes, rural poverty, climate change, an ageing population, access to services and facilities, and – perhaps hardest to define, but very real for this community – enhancing the rural environment and way of life in the face of encroaching urbanism.

The beauty of the community-led response in a plan like this is that it is positive and proactive. It doesn’t simply identify problems and lobby others to fix them. Instead, the plan focusses on aspirations and how they can be realised through community-led action – all developed through solid community engagement.

statistics about the community engagement

There was a big focus on innovative online engagement – an Ideas Bank, Community Assemblies, open working groups and more – with useful lessons for future Local Place Planning like, for example, when community engagement is better online and when it’s not. Check out the story of the engagement including a wee animation.

diagram showing the engagement process

The Plan includes ambitious but practical actions: building homes for people who need them most, creating local childcare so parents can get back to work, improving countryside access so locals and visitors can enjoy the hills, heritage and lochs, and much more besides – a total of 20 action areas. The plan on a poster (below) has a summary of the action areas.

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In the full plan, each action area has detailed information sheets with first steps, examples and more.Lots of communities prepare community action plans like this. The idea is that anybody can pick up a project and get it going.

Lots of communities prepare community action plans like this. Too often, the process is energising for those involved, but little changes on the ground. Stratherrick and Foyers will be different, because the community has access to resources to make things happen.

That work is already starting, as the local Community Trust is following up the plan by rapidly putting in place mechanisms to empower local groups to deliver projects with funding and professional support. Even delivering half of this plan over the next five years will be transformational for the local community and inspirational for the rest of Scotland.

The good people of Stratherrick and Foyers have resources, commitment and ever-increasing support. Now they have a plan of action too. Good luck!

Follow these links for more information:

Huge thanks to the many local folk in Foyers and Stratherrick who worked with us to prepare the plan, and to Icecream Architecture and SCDC (Scottish Community Development Centre) for being such valued members of the team.


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